Dietary supplements for body-weight reduction: a systematic review

Am J Clin Nutr. 2004 Apr;79(4):529-36. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/79.4.529.


Background: Compliance with conventional weight-management programs is notoriously poor, and a plethora of over-the-counter slimming aids are sold with claims of effectiveness.

Objective: The objective of the study was to assess the evidence from rigorous clinical trials, systematic reviews, and meta-analyses on the effectiveness of dietary supplements in reducing body weight.

Design: The study was a systematic review. Literature searches were conducted on Medline, Embase, Amed, Cinahl, and the Cochrane Library until March 2003. Hand searches of medical journals, the authors' own files, and bibliographies of identified articles were conducted. There were no restrictions regarding the language of publication. The screening of studies, selection, validation, data extraction, and the assessment of methodologic quality were performed independently by the 2 reviewers. To be included, trials were required to be randomized and double-blind. Systematic reviews and meta-analyses of dietary supplements were included if they were based on the results of randomized, double-blind trials.

Results: Five systematic reviews and meta-analyses and 25 additional trials were included and reviewed. Data on the following dietary supplements were identified: chitosan, chromium picolinate, Ephedra sinica, Garcinia cambogia, glucomannan, guar gum, hydroxy-methylbutyrate, plantago psyllium, pyruvate, yerba maté, and yohimbe. The reviewed studies provide some encouraging data but no evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that any specific dietary supplement is effective for reducing body weight. The only exceptions are E. sinica- and ephedrine-containing supplements, which have been associated with an increased risk of adverse events.

Conclusions: The evidence for most dietary supplements as aids in reducing body weight is not convincing. None of the reviewed dietary supplements can be recommended for over-the-counter use.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Complementary Therapies* / adverse effects
  • Complementary Therapies* / standards
  • Complementary Therapies* / trends
  • Dietary Supplements* / adverse effects
  • Dietary Supplements* / classification
  • Humans
  • Meta-Analysis as Topic
  • Obesity / epidemiology
  • Obesity / therapy*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Weight Loss*